Thinking in Threes: Tricia Lawrence

It’s time for another round of Thinking in Threes, where we an agent, editor, or author three questions and they answer each with three(ish) answers. Today’s guest: the fabulous Tricia Lawrence of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. We were able to snag this whip-smart agent for the Writing for Charity conference this year, so in advance of that event, Tricia agreed to answer a few questions for us. I met Tricia several years ago and she’s felt like a friend since that very first meeting–so kind and funny and warm.

Tricia is the “Pacific Northwest branch” of EMLA—born and raised in Oregon, and now lives in Seattle. After 20 years of working as a developmental and production-based editor (from kids books to college textbooks, but mostly college textbooks), she joined the EMLA team in March 2011 as a social media strategist.

Tricia represents picture books/chapter books that look at the world in a unique and unusual way, with characters that are alive both on and off the page, and middle grade and young adult fiction and nonfiction that offers strong worldbuilding, wounded narrators, and stories that grab a reader and won’t let go.
Tricia loves hiking, camping out in the woods, and collecting rocks. She loves BBC America and anything British. She has way too many books and not enough bookshelves.
Without further ado, here’s the interview, including a bonus question and answer!
TTOF: What are the differences between “Similar to another project – I want!” and “Too close – I can’t”?
It’s usually “Too close – I can’t.” But if I’m on the fence about someone’s work (usually the author newly submitting), I’ll have a discussion with them and ask questions about the direction the work is going. That’s often where most situations either are found to not be an issue or we realize it is an issue. But most of the time, I just have that sense that the work seems really familiar and especially when thinking about editors I would send it to, if I’m already sending and submitting something, I just can’t take on another.
TTOF: What forthcoming or recently released projects are you excited about?
I have two amazing MG novels coming in fall 2016 and I’m so excited about both. The first is Heather Bouwman’s A CRACK IN THE SEA, from Putnam, and it’s a multi-protagonist historical fiction tale that examines the circumstances around finding new homes in this world . . . or in another world. It’s sort of a new mythology for immigrants who set sail in perilous seas. The second is Elly Swartz’s FINDING PERFECT, from FSG, a contemporary about a young girl who is trying to gain some semblance of order on her life that has gone upside down. Both are beautifully written, and I’m so excited for them to be published.
TTOF: What’s on your wish list right now?
I’m really hungry for novels, novels, novels. I want something I have not seen before, something historical and rich or fantasy and world-building. Give me a dose of magical realism and I’m usually hooked. Picture books are tough for me now because I have such amazing folks on my list and so I have to be very careful, but I’d love to find something dark (huge fan of Jon Klassen’s I WANT MY HAT BACK) and I’m a big fan of beautiful prose picture book texts. I rep some good rhymers, though, too, so surprise me!
TTOF: What do you enjoy when not reading slush or pitching books to editors?
I’m always reading something (ha, so what’s new?) and my newest thing is running with my dog, Rue, a Husky shepherd (she LOVES it!). On weekends I’m at the beach near my house with hubby and both dogs and I’m picking up rocks and shells. I am also addicted to THE WALKING DEAD series still. This has been a multi-year obsession and it just won’t quit!

TTOF: Thanks so much for your time and for these thoughtful answers, Trish!

Interview by Elaine Vickers

Thinking in Threes: Ammi-Joan Paquette

Welcome back to “Thinking in Threes,” our interview series where we ask an agent, editor, or author three questions, and they answer each question with three answers. Today I’m thrilled to welcome my own agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette.
Joan was on my list of dream agents before I even began querying, so naturally, I sent my manuscript to her in my very first round. (Seriously!) Luckily, she saw enough promise and is just gracious and kind enough that we kept in touch, and she was willing to take another look when I got an offer of representation from another agent over a year later. Ever since (and even before) I signed with her, Joan has been the kind of advocate, advisor, and friend to me that any author would be lucky to have. She’s such a warm and wonderful person that I wouldn’t even share statistics if they weren’t so impressive: On Publisher’s Marketplace, she’s currently #2 in middle grade, #9 in picture books, and #3 in children’s overall. (!!!)
Joan is a Senior Agent with EMLA, working from her home office in Massachusetts as the “East Coast branch” of the agency. She represents all forms of children’s and young adult literature, but is most excited by a strong lyrical voice, tight plotting with surprising twists and turns, and stories told with heart and resonance that will stand the test of time. An EMLA client herself, Joan is also the author of numerous books for children, most recently Princess Juniper of the Hourglass, a fabulous middle grade novel (and the first in a series!) that School Library Journal called “a rollicking tale that will please a wide range of readers.”
And now, Joan’s three answers to each of three questions:
How does being a writer help you as an agent?
I’d have to say:
  1. Empathy, from having walked that same path and hit all those same potholes myself.
  2. A close understanding of how the process works from the inside-out.
  3. A balance of perspectives – I see the business side, but I see the creative side also, and I think this can be a huge asset.

How does being an agent help you as a writer?
It’s helped me greatly!
  1. It’s helped me to keep the big picture in mind in my writing, to look beyond my immediate setbacks or rejections or delays.
  2. There’s always something new to focus on, so it keeps me busy.
  3. And it’s helped my inspiration – there’s always a fresh and thrilling project to get behind and to get excited about!

What are your recent favorite reads? (Aside from client books, of course!)

  1. The Magician’s Land, by Lev Grossman: A stunning end to the series – I liked it even better than the earlier ones!
  2. Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay: Incredibly thought-provoking series of essays that made me reassess much of my thinking. Great stuff!
  3. Althea and Oliver, by Christina Moracho: Immersive story with deliciously rich characters – loved it.

Thank you so much, Joan, for sharing your answers and insights with us!


Elaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins, 2016) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at on the web, @ElaineBVickers on Twitter and Pinterest, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption. 🙂

A Writer’s Guide to Online Contests

For aspiring writers, there are several different ways to connect with agents (and editors) to represent your work. By far the most common is cold querying (which, contrary to what some believe, does work). You can meet agents at writing conferences (I did)–and you can participate in online writing contests.

I love a good writing contest. Even though that’s not how I got my agent, online contests were a big part of my querying process.

Right now, with the Pitch Wars mentor blog hop going on and the Pitch Wars submission window just around the corner (August 17th), it seems like a great time to revisit online contests. (Full disclosure: I’m mentoring Pitch Wars this year. It’s a great contest, and if you have a polished manuscript, you should consider entering!)

Why should you enter online writing contests?

1. Get feedback

Most writing contests are a great way to get feedback–from judges, other writers, agents, even editors. Even if you don’t get “picked” for a contest, you can learn something by looking at the entries that do get in. Are they doing something different in the query? In their pages? Every contest I’ve entered has taught me something about how my pages are working.

2. Meet other writers

One of my favorite part of writing contests is meeting other writers. During Pitch Wars last fall, someone started a facebook group for the contestants. That group has been a mine of support, information, and feedback. (They even helped me with this post!) Not every contest will do that, but a lot of contests have a heavy twitter presence: find other authors hanging out on the hashtag and start chatting (#pitchwars, #pitmad, and more).

3. Get a sense of the market

Contests can be helpful to get a sense for what else is currently being queried. By looking at the winners of different contests, you can see what genres agents are interested in and which are oversaturated. Contests can also give you a sense of how competitive your work is: in my first online contest, I was shocked by how good some of the other entries were, and I learned to set my bar much higher.

4. Find representation

Of course, the goal of many of these contests is to find an agent who’s interested in your work. Some agents only accept work from contests, conference attendees, or referrals, so they can be a place to put your work before someone who might not otherwise see it. Sometimes contests get agents to see your work in a new light–I’ve had agents request who had previously rejected my query.

But remember, not all good agents participate in contests (mine doesn’t). Not all contest agents are good agents–do your due diligence before submitting to anyone who requests! And not all requests lead to offers.

For me, finding an agent would be the icing on the cake of a good contest–it’s great to have, but you can get a lot out of a contest even without that (see above).

What contests are out there?

Obviously, a post like this can’t be fully comprehensive. But here are some contests that I and some of my writer friends think are worthwhile. If you’re looking for a list of judged contests, like the RWA’s Golden Heart award, here’s a great list.

Monthly Contests

Miss Snark’s First Victim also hosts a monthly secret agent contest. MSFV invites all those who enter to comment on other people’s entries–I know Tasha, Elaine and I have all participated and had some good feedback this way. MSFV was one of the first contests I actually won–even though that partial request turned into a “no” it was a good confidence boost for me.

First Five Pages, sponsored by Adventures in YA Publishing, accepts the first five pages of a MG or YA novel the first Saturday of every month. Martina Boone, Lisa Gail Green, and/or a guest mentor will offer feedback on how the beginning is working. (This isn’t necessarily a contest, but a great way to get feedback). 

Operation Awesome’s Mystery Agent Contests: the first of each month, Operation Awesome hosts a contest where a mystery agent (identity revealed when the contest is over) picks their favorite pitch from that month’s entries. The entry requirements vary by agent. (The last one was in April, so follow their blog or twitter account to see when they start up again).

Annual or Semi-Annual Contests

Pitch Wars might be the best known of the annual contests: last fall they had over 1200 applicants and expect that many or more this fall. Hosted by the indefatigable Brenda Drake (if you’re not already following her on twitter @brendadrake, you should! She knows tons and she hosts awesome contests), applicants are invited to submit their query and first chapter to five mentors. Each mentor (an agented or published author) chooses one mentee and helps them revise their *entire* manuscript before posting a pitch and first page for the agent round. I’m a mentor this year (for YA) and I couldn’t be more excited! Entries are due August 17th (though Brenda may open the submission window early). Check out #PitchWars for writing tips and more contest information.

Pitch Madness is also hosted by Brenda Drake (along with her minions and slush zombies). Here again writers submit a pitch and their first 250, then the contest coordinators chose 64 to vie for agent attention. This usually alternates with Pitch Wars (a fall contest) and is held in the Spring.The contest schedule for both Pitch Wars and Pitch Madness can be found here.

 Adventures in YA Publishing has hosted a variety of different contests. Last fall, I participated in #pitchplus5. Fifty applicants submitted their first five pages, which were then posted for comments from the community. Bloggers picked the top 25, which were revised and posted again with a short pitch. Published authors picked the top ten, which were again polished and posted for the agent round. Their most recent version of this was a pitch plus the first page, also with feedback. I had a lot of fun with this contest last fall: I got some great feedback and several agent requests (a few that turned into offers)–and the two of us who were the grand prize winners now both have three-book contracts. I’m just sayin’. 

Write Inclusively is a brand new contest focusing on manuscripts that address at least one diverse aspect: class, race, gender, sexuality, (dis)ability, etc. The submission window opens September 4-6.

Pitch Slam, a newer contest hosted by L.L. McKinney is a bi-annual contest (usually March and October) involving 35 word pitches and the first 250 words of a manuscript, which you revise for the agent round.

Nightmare on Query Street has been held the last two Octobers; I assume it will go again this fall but I’m not sure. The entries required standard genre and wordcount information, the first page, and a paragraph about the main character’s biggest fear. Follow the hashtag #NightmareQuery for more information.

Nest Pitch, like the Writer’s Voice, asks for short submissions (35 word pitch, 300 word entry) that are then claimed by various teams who compete against each other for the most agent requests. In the past, this contest has been held in April.

The Writer’s Voice, hosted by Mother.Write.Repeat, along with LoveYA, Cupid’s Literary Connection and Brenda Drake each May. For this contest, each of the sponsoring blogs chooses a “team” of strong writing entries and compete for agent attention. One of the cool things about this contest was that even those who weren’t chosen had an opportunity to have their submission posted on a blog and get feedback from other entrants. Follow @monica_bw for details.
Query Kombat involves 64 entries, facing off against one another in single-elimination tournament style. Fair warning: while I have writer friends who have done well in this contest, others have found the elimination style hard on their writing ego. This contest is held every few months, so follow the blog for updated information.

Pitch to Publication is another contest that, like Pitch Wars, offers a full manuscript critique for selected entries, followed by an agent round and a publisher’s round. This contest is currently ongoing, so follow Samantha Fountain’s blog for details of the next contest.

Miss Snark’s First Victim retired her The Baker’s Dozen last fall, but she periodically does in-house critiques and rumor has it there’s something in the works to replace Baker’s Dozen, so keep an eye on her site. 

Twitter Pitch Parties

There are lots of different twitter pitch parties out there, which generally give you a window (usually 24 hours) to tweet pitches using a hashtag. You can search the hashtags for more information. Some of the most common include

  • #pitmad (following Pitch Madness), 
  • #sffpit (exclusively for Sci-fi/fantasy), 
  • #adpit (for adult novels), 
  • #pitchmas (usually July and December), 
  • #kidpit  November 12, for children’s books (picture books-YA)

Gina Denny has an awesome post on twitter pitches that you  need to read if you’re thinking of pitching.
Not enough for you? Here’s an even more comprehensive list.

What contests have you entered and enjoyed? What questions do you have about writing contests?

Thinking in Threes: Josh Adams

This post is the second in our series of “Thinking in Threes,” where we ask an agent or editor three questions, and they answer each question with three answers. 
Josh Adams.jpgFor today’s post, I’m thrilled to present Josh Adams, agent extraordinaire at Adams Literary. Josh also happens to be *my* agent, so I’m only a little bit biased when I say that he runs a truly fabulous agency. I first met Josh last spring, at the LDStorymakers conference, where he ran a workshop on query letters and first chapters. I also sat in on a panel he did with Kathryn Purdie and Sarah Larson, both amazing clients of his, and I was so impressed with his smart answers and the rapport they had that I left the panel not-so-secretly wishing he could be my agent to. Luckily, after the workshop, he asked me to send me my full when I finished it. Six months later, I sent it in, and the rest is history. (Okay, there’s more to the story than that, but you really want to read his answers, not my agent story!)
Josh, together with his wife Tracey, runs Adams Literary, a boutique literary agency exclusively dedicated to the children’s and YA markets. Adams Literary represents a number of best-selling and award-winning authors and artists, and prides itself on launching, developing and nurturing successful and enduring careers for its clients. Clients include Veronica Rossi, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, E. K. Johnston, Cynthia Lorde, Jackson Pearce, and many more. While Josh represents a diverse group of clients and material, ranging from picture books to edgy teen novels, he is primarily focused on middle-grade and YA.
A graduate of Dartmouth College and Columbia Business School—where he was awarded the Abe Shuchman Memorial Award in Marketing—Josh spent more than a decade in publishing, media management and brand strategy consulting before bringing his editorial and business backgrounds together as a literary agent.

In his free time, Josh enjoys practicing Taekwondo, playing tennis, and traveling with Tracey and his two daughters. You can follow Adams Literary at @AdamsLiterary or on Facebook.

TTOF: What are the most common mistakes you see in a query?

At Adams Literary, we get a mind-boggling number of submissions each year, so needless to say, we also see a lot of mistakes. Some of the most common are:
1. Not following guidelines. Like other literary agencies, we have submission guidelines tailored to our process. These guidelines are clearly posted on our website, and in order to be able to submit to through the online form, an author will have to navigate through the submission guideline page first. Nevertheless, we often get adult novels or other projects we explicitly don’t represent, or the first few chapters of a manuscript, when we clearly ask for the complete file. Although we do make changes to our guidelines from time to time, over the years it seems that no matter what our guidelines may be, many people will simply ignore them or try to find a loophole.
2. Not doing your research. We expect authors to do their homework before they submit to us, and have a general sense—either from what they’ve read on our site or elsewhere, seen in deal reports, or heard from us at conferences—of what we may like, and why they are choosing to submit to us. Yet, again, we see many queries that are way off the mark, and even many that either have our names misspelled or are addressed to agents at other literary agencies. It gets our attention, for sure, but not in a good way. We also get many unsolicited queries directly in our email inbox or through the mail, even though our guidelines explicitly state that all queries/submissions must come via our website form. These types of queries either get deleted immediately, or recycled, as the case may be.
3. Not getting to the point. Given how many submissions we get, and how busy we are generally, a query needs to make an immediate impact and not be cluttered or confused. I used to work in journalism, and there’s an old saying that I think is good advice: “Don’t bury the lead.”

TTOF: What are the differences between “Similar to another project – I want!” and “Too close – I can’t”?

Because so many authors these days are following deal reports, we frequently get queries based on recent sales or high-profile books of ours in hopes that we might like something similar; we’ve also had authors tell us that they were almost afraid to submit to us because they felt their novel might be too similar to a description of one of our sales. Although we do often find a lot of trends, it’s rare that we have projects come into us that are too similar for us to consider. The descriptions often seem similar, but the execution is usually quite different. Specifically, the way I consider whether something is too similar to another project—mine or someone else’s—and whether it may be right for me, is:
1. I always look for something I haven’t seen before. Especially if it’s in a familiar or trendy genre, I look for stories that have something special and that will stand apart—either in the writing or the point of view—from others out there.
2. I have to love it. My first question to myself as I’m reading is not “Do I think I can I sell this?”, but “Do I love this?” If I love it—which usually involves not being able to stop thinking about it—then I move on to Point #3…

3. I have to have a clear vision for how to position the project and develop the author. This is equally important, because I tend to think very strategically. Even if I love a project, if I don’t find myself with a clear vision for how to position the work in the market, or how I could make a meaningful impact on the author’s career, then I will pass.

TTOF: What’s on your wish list right now? 

My wish list right now is the same as it always has been: mind-blowing, life-changing books. I’m forever on the lookout for what I think could be the next award-winner or bestseller. Specifically, in no particular order, I look for:
1. Highly literary fiction
2. Epic middle-grade fantasy
3. High-concept YA adventure

Although I almost never mention anything quite this specific for fear of being overwhelmed or having other things I might love not make their way to me because they don’t fit the description, I’d love to find a YA version of THE MARTIAN, my favorite recent adult read.
Thank you so much, Josh, for taking the time to join us on Thinking Through Our Fingers. And for anyone reading this trying to decide whether or not to query Adams Literary, I say do it! They’re fantastic. 

Rosalyn Eves is a part-time writer, part-time English professor, and full-time mother of three. She loves all things BBC, especially costume dramas and mysteries. When not wrangling children (and sometimes when she should be wrangling children), she’s often found reading. Her debut novel, THE BLOOD ROSE REBELLION, is forthcoming Fall 2016 from Knopf. She’s represented by Josh Adams of Adams Literary.


Break Them All, But Be Smart

We are thrilled to welcome our newest contributor Scott Wilbanks!

Have you seen Legally Blonde?

In one of my favorite scenes, Elle has just given Professor Callahan her resume.  He’s standing in the university hallway, holding it under his nose, as she walks off.

He passes it to Emmett. “Smell that,” he says.

Emmett gives it a sniff. “Smells nice.”

The professor follows Elle’s progress until she disappears at the end of the corridor, and turns to Emmett, looking completely baffled. “Do you think she just woke up one morning and thought, ‘I think I’ll go to law school today?’”

While it may not be immediately evident, the moral of the story is that Elle is above the rules, because, well… she’s Elle. She’s a fictional construct designed to entertain. As nameless, faceless, yet very real people trying to rope in an agent, we’re not above them, right?

I’m not so sure. It certainly wasn’t my experience. And, believe me, with over a hundred rejections to my credit, I have a lot of it—experience, that is.

We all begin at the same place. We’ve written a manuscript, we’re raring to go, but we haven’t a clue what to do next. So, we educate ourselves. We learn the rules.

For example, we learn that our query letter must be one-page long, double-spaced, Times New Roman, font-size twelve; otherwise it will be frowned upon. It must contain a hook, a rip-roaring summary that distills the very heart of our manuscript in three sentences or less, a title, a word count, a genre classification, comparative titles, our platform, and a pithy introduction communicating to the agent that we’ve armed ourselves with knowledge of their inner most literary desires and are prepared to deliver on them. Oh! And despite the exhaustive restriction of all those rules, we’ve done the impossible. We’ve made our query stand out.

Rules, rules, rules. As writers, we’re surrounded by them, weighed down by the sense of dread they impose—a vague feeling that breaking them will result in some sort of cosmic, professional implosion.

So let’s cut a few down to size.

The Cardinal Rule of author/agent interaction—one that every agent on the planet will agree with—is don’t query too soon. Sweat over your manuscript, they say. Bleed onto the page. And only when Hemingway swoons should you have the audacity to send it out into the world.

Here’s the problem. With Hemingway dead and buried, how do you know if it’s too soon unless you do query? That’s a mean twist on the chicken-or-the-egg conundrum that no one really talks about. The answer is that you don’t. Family members, critique partners, and beta readers aside, you don’t. So, do the very best you can with what you’ve got, send your baby out into the agenting world, and prepare yourself for deafening silence. It’s not deadly. It’s not career ending. It’s merely… humbling. If and when a request for pages comes through, immediately prepare to be politely dressed down. That’s okay, too, because somewhere within that spanking will be the seed from which you can make your manuscript better. Do so, and stubbornly repeat the process.

The second rule is even more ruthless. If you’ve queried your heart out, and gotten nowhere, the prevailing wisdom is that there is something fundamentally flawed with your writing, the engineering of your story line, or both. Perhaps that’s true, but my beef is with the second half of the premise which states that you should put your manuscript in a drawer, and start anew. Hogwash. Words can be fixed. Story lines rebuilt. Stakes can be raised. Use what you’ve written to learn the craft of writing. You can build your craft on the shoulders of your prior work just as easily as you can from a blank page.

I don’t even know how many times I rewrote THE LEMONCHOLY LIFE OF ANNIE ASTER. It was a lot. And let me tell you, the first draft was so gawd-awful that the pages it was written on are currently on suicide watch.

Moving on to the third rule. Never re-query the same agent. They will know. This is a tricky one, as it implies a number of things, the first being that your pool of agents is more fragile than finite, something to be spooned out with exquisite care lest you sabotage your writing career before it’s even begun. It also implies that your work hasn’t evolved. Worse, it makes agents too remote. They should be respected, not put on a pedestal. And, finally, it implies on some level that you have a crystal ball that will tell you the exact moment an agent will be receptive to your query. I didn’t. So, I did re-query, albeit after I felt my manuscript had improved enough to merit it, and guess what? The world didn’t fall apart, but I did end up generating requests for pages.

And while it’s more an assumption than a rule, don’t be resigned to the inevitability of the slush pile. Find creative ways to reduce the degree of separation between yourself and the agent you are querying—without stalking, of course. That’s creepy. My modus operandi became webinars facilitated by agents. Writer’s Digest was my go-to place, as it fit my meager budget. If the agent reserved the right to request materials from the webinar, I was in! I’ll never forget the day I was sitting on my parents’ porch, my PC on my lap, listening in on a webinar when the agent/facilitator said, “Ladies and gentlemen, here’s an example of a query that breaks all the rules.” Her name was Barbara Poelle. Three days later, she offered to represent me.

The truth is that these rules, the ones that we adhere to so doggedly, were promulgated by an iteration of the literary industry that no longer exists—one that pushed paper over email. The industry has evolved. Recognize that, and honor the intent of the rules, but listen to your gut first and foremost. Unless, of course, it’s telling you to query on pink, scented letterhead embossed with your initials. Then don’t. You’re not Elle Woods.

Scott is an American expat living in New Zealand with his frustratingly perfect husband. A former national title holder in the sport of gymnastics whose left arm is an inch shorter than his right—the result of a career-ending accident—Scott ditched the corporate world to “see where this writing will take me.” He is the author of THE LEMONCHOLY LIFE OF ANNIE ASTER, a commercial fiction novel with a fantasy premise releasing August 1, 2015, that tells the story of two pen pals who are fighting against the clock to solve the mystery behind the hiccup in time connecting their homes before one of them is convicted of a murder that is yet to happen… and yet somehow already did.

Life as a Hybrid Author

We are thrilled to have Jolene Perry as our newest contributor, with the next installment in our “Life of a Writer” series!

First, let me say what “hybrid” means since the first picture I get in my head is of a Liger (I’m totally kidding) (mostly). Any-way…

A hybrid author is someone who publishes both with traditional publishers and self-publishes.


When I first set out to be published (2010), self-publishing wasn’t even a thing. I mean, you could hire a vanity press to publish your books, and spend a small fortune doing it, but that was not at all what I wanted.

I got my first contract with CFI and my first agent within a few months of each other. My agent very quickly sold two of my YA novels to an ebook only publisher, and then over the next year, two more to traditional publishers (Entangled/Macmillan and AW Teen, who I love and am still with). But we were not a good fit for a ton of reasons, which could be a blog post all by itself.

So. I’d written a book called My Heart for Yours with my friend, Steph Campbell. She’d had a lot of success with her self-published novels, and since I was between agents, we published that book together. After the pressure and stress of cover arguments, and edits I was disappointed with and/or didn’t agree on, it was a welcome relief to control all of those things myself. Consequently, that book got me my current agent WHOM I LOVE.

My Heart for Yours did so well that when CFI offered on the next two books in The Next Door Boys series, I turned them down in favor of self-publishing.

For a while, self-publishing was very good to me. I had the benefit of professional edits, and friends who were cover designers to keep me on track.

And then everyone started self-publishing. I started to feel like I was getting lost in the shuffle, and I just wasn’t willing to play all the games to keep my books ahead.

I re-focused on traditional publishing, which has its own set of problems.

And then I realized something very important. Something that took me an embarrassingly long time to understand, when it should have been obvious from the beginning: Not all projects are meant for traditional publishing and not all projects are meant for self-publishing. (at least for me)

So, now I decide at some point in the writing process if I’m going to self pub, or trad pub. I’m very fortunate to have an agent who has no problems with me doing both. I just have to watch the language in my contracts with traditional publishers to make sure I’m not in breach or stepping on toes.

I’ve done this by keeping my full length YA in traditional houses, and self-publishing my adult romances under pen names.

This is what works for me. For sure it wouldn’t work for everyone.


Well, aside from what I just mentioned, I sometimes feel like I don’t fit in anywhere. I know that hybrids are more and more common, but very often I feel like I’m standing on this bright line between two publishing avenues. The self-pubbers don’t take much notice because my numbers aren’t high enough for them to bother hanging with me. The traditional only pubbers don’t take much notice because I’m one of those “self pubbers.”

I know that the bias is changing and shifting, and I’m grateful for it, but it doesn’t change the fact that I sometimes feel like the last kid picked for the dodgeball team. (And I really love dodgeball)


For the first time in a long time, authors have a lot of avenues for their work. If a book doesn’t sell, or if a contract isn’t what an author wants, they still have a way to get that work into the world.

I love self-publishing for the freedom, and I love traditional publishing for the audience. And because, as petty and vain as it is, I love to see my books on bookshelves 😉

In the end, the best we can do is learn what we can, make decisions and plans, and then have a back-up for when nothing turns out the way we expect. And this goes for a lot more than publishing books.



Jolene Perry wears worn out Chucks, juvenile t-shirts, and eats too much chocolate. She loves to go fast, love french fries dipped in Frosties, and stories that keep her guessing. She writes for Entangled, Albert Whitman Teen, and Simon Pulse. Author of lots of books.

She is represented by Jane Dystel of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management and Rachel Stout, also of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management.

She write speculative fiction under the name AJ Brooks and new adult fiction under the name Mia Josephs

The life of a querying writer

The life of a querying writer is–if I’m totally honest–one of the hardest part of my writer life to date. Part of that comes from the inevitable roller-coaster ride that is querying. A writer friend compared querying to going through the stages of grief–and while it does have its fair share of rage and denial, it’s not all downhill. (See what I did there?)

Actually (and please don’t stone me), there’s a lot to querying that I like. I like the sense of anticipation, that clean-slate moment where anything is possible. It’s a lot like dating, actually. Though I’m happily married and I don’t *want* to be single again, there is a little part of me that will always be sad that I don’t get to experience the magical anticipation before a first date. And while I’m happily agented now, I have to admit that I do miss (a very little!) that same sense of anticipation before sending out query letters.

If you’re just getting started on the query roller-coaster, here’s what the trajectory looks like:

1. Researching agents

I started researching agents long before I was done revising my manuscript. I keep my query-related stuff in an excel file, so anytime I saw a new agent alert on Writer’s Digest that looked promising or a great agent interview on Literary Rambles, I’d make a note of the agent and a link to their submission guidelines. Query,, searching #mswl (Manuscript wish list) on twitter or the blog compiled by Jessica Sinsheimer at are all good places to look for agents who might rep the genre you write.

2. Writing the query letter (and synopsis)

Let it be said–I do not love writing query letters. Condensing a 100k novel into 100 words or so is incredibly painful, for nearly anyone. Luckily, there are some great resources online to help with this, including these:

Shallee McArthur’s helpful 4 Cs of Query Letters

Susan Dennard’s tips on writing great queries

Susan Dennard’s tips on writing a synopsis (hands-down the best synopsis tips I’ve seen. It made writing a synopsis not exactly pleasurable, but do-able)

Also, query letters are things that should not be attempted alone–get feedback on it before you hit send! Once I had a decent query letter, I sent it to some trusted CPs who tore it apart. I rewrote it multiple times before I hit on a version I liked.

3. Hit send

For many querying writers, this is one of the hardest parts. We stare at our computer screen. We scrutinize the font (it can be helpful to send a sample email to yourself before sending it to an agent!), we check for mistakes. We take a deep breath, hit send . . . and then see the typo we missed. Try not to freak out about this too much–it happens to the best of us.

4. Hope

I don’t think I realized quite how much hope feels like terror until I started querying. After hitting send, there’s this glorious space where anything is possible. Sometimes that hope lasted all of an hour, in the case of notoriously quick agent responses (Query Tracker can give you some idea of general response times). Other times, it might last months, especially if you have a partial or full manuscript out.

5. Obsessively checking my email and/or twitter

This was my second time querying, so I was smarter and wiser and set up a separate gmail account for writing-related stuff. That way, I didn’t freak out every I got a new advertisement in my regular account.

I still spent a lot of time looking like this:

I actually made checking my email a reward to keep from refreshing all the time–i.e., if I finished a round of grading I could check. After I fed my kids dinner, I could check. It kept the need to constantly refresh from taking over my life.

And then there’s social media. Twitter makes it easy to follow a majority of agents–and it can be hard to resist the temptation to read into every tweet an agent sends. “She says she wants cake! Maybe she just read that scene in my MS where they *eat* cake.” This kind of thinking can make you crazy pretty fast. Try not to do it (I well know it’s easier said than done!) And don’t read anything into agents following you on twitter either. Sometimes it means something (i.e., an offer is pending). Sometimes it doesn’t. Trying to guess the difference won’t do anything but make you more anxious.

6. Reacting

For all that we spend hours as writers imagining how our characters will react to things, I think we (or maybe it’s just me) do a pretty poor job imagining how we’ll react to something as high-stakes and stressful as querying. For most writers, even successful ones whose querying lands an agent, we go through lots of rejections. Some I was able to shrug off (basic forms), but every single full-rejection I got hurt. A lot. Though ironically, the most painful rejection was off a partial from an agent I really admired that I queried really early in the process.

I think it’s important to remember that there’s no right way to react–let yourself feel disappointed, sad, angry, whatever. One writer friend wrote some lovely rejection haiku to assuage her feelings–if this helps, do it! Just don’t actually *send* it:

// And then, of course, there’s the bounding-off-the-walls celebratory high from a request–especially a full request from an agent you’ve dreamed of working with. I found, though, that the highs didn’t last long, and weren’t enough to sustain me over the long haul.

Make sure you have a good support network in place–writer friends, family–people who love you and support your writing. Query fatigue is a real thing. It’s easy to get tired and downright despairing, and you’ll need people to help lift you.

Remember, too, that rejections don’t mean that you are worthless or your writing terrible (though it can often feel like that). Usually they just mean, “not this agent, not right now.” Think of how you feel when you enter a book store and can only afford to buy one or two books–there might be lots of books that were interesting, some that frankly weren’t your type, but only one or two that really tugged at your heart. Agents can’t represent everything–that doesn’t mean its personal.

7. Shake it off–and move on (aka, rinse, lather, repeat)

Some writers, myself included, adopted a strategy of “revenge querying”–that is, for every rejection you get, send out another query. Or two. Grieve if you need to, but keep moving forward. Do more research, get new eyes on your query letter and pages if you’re getting lots of rejections, revise, and hit send again. Then breathe. Let yourself hope some more.

8. Write something new

Honestly, the last thing I wanted to do when I was obsessing over my book baby and agent responses (or non-responses) was to write more. But brainstorming a shiny new idea–even writing a few pages in a new WIP–are great ways to combat querying fatigue.

And there’s nothing like a shiny new idea to remind you why you started writing in the first place. I’m currently on submission, and writing not only helps distract me, but it keeps me from putting all my eggs in one basket. I will write other good things–I’m already starting to.

9.  Hitting “the End”

For a querying writer, querying ends one of two ways. Either you get THE CALL, or you decide to shelve the book.

The first, of course, is exciting and what every author hopes for at the end of their round of queries.

But the other is okay too. Some books aren’t quite ready. Sometimes the market isn’t ready. I got an agent on my second round of queries (third if you count the cold query I sent to Tor when I was 20); I have a writer friend who got an agent on her 10th book. But I’m still glad I queried that first book. I learned a lot about the query process and about agents I admired (and agents who weren’t for me). I learned more about revising and my own writing strengths and weaknesses from the feedback I got from agents.

More importantly, I learned that setting a book aside wasn’t the end of the world. It’s not a failure unless you let it become one. For me, it’s just one more milestone on the road.

And besides, everyone needs a good query rejection story. It’s part of being a writer.

If you’ve queried before, what was querying like for you? If you’re about to query, what questions do you have?


Rosalyn Eves is a part-time writer, part-time English professor, and full-time mother of three. She loves all things BBC, especially costume dramas and mysteries. When not wrangling children (and sometimes when she should be wrangling children), she’s often found reading. She’s represented by Josh Adams of Adams Literary.